The Storms of Impunity in Brazil

It was only a few days ago when I brought a piece on impunity in Guatemala following the country’s civil war and the political crisis caused by the right-left dichotomies of today. Well, it seems that Brazil is also debating the supposed inevitability of impunity following the democratization of Latin America in the mid-1980s (in Brazil’s case, after 1985).

From today’s Latin American Herald Tribune, “Brazilian Government Opposes Trials for Junta’s Torturers:”

Attempts to prosecute individuals for acts of murder and torture carried out under Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime are motivated solely by vengeance, the country’s defense minister said Thursday.

“The right to memory is one thing and revenge is another,” Nelson Jobim told the official Agencia Brasil news service.

brazil coup guolart

Of course, the politics of memory are yet another thing. Like Argentina, Uruguay, Chile – Brazil created impunity laws, amnesty laws, in the 1980s as the dictatorships bowed to public pressure and exonerated themselves from power. Thus, it is one thing to preach about preserving the memory of lost ones killed in so many small dirty wars across South America and another to preserve the apparatus of invincibility, which brings with it altering of memories out of fear of a military return.

But Brazil, like Guatemala and other countries, urges their citizens to look forward. But in order to view history as anything but facts and irrelevant to daily life, a true accounting of the past is essential. More than just a truth commission, South Americans are beginning to demand punishment for soldiers who perpetrated atrocities in the 1970s and ’80s. For example, Uruguay is seeking to repeal its impunity law it approved by referendum in 1986, only two years after the military bowed out.

Unfortunately, like the United States, Brazil hopes to ride its prosperity past the truths about its history. Human rights and other activists groups attempt to hold the government and its institutions accountable. They claim that human rights abuses have no statute of limitations as they are crimes against humanity. And as death squad leaders across the Hemisphere have been walking free for three decades, support for an end to impunity grows by the day.

Apologists for the military, like Jobim, respond:

…“international treaties do not carry more weight than the Brazilian constitution…”

…“there are South American countries that still are reliving their past and not building their future,” adding that, in the case of Brazil, he wants “energy spent on the future.”

Always the future. Yet Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, the United States, fail to understand that an acceptance of the past, along with the consequences, will guide their societies into this future we seem to keep dreaming about. Without understanding the push back from the Vargas years, the rise of João Goulart, his coup and installation a military institution, Brazil cannot conceive of itself in its place in history, its place in the world. And this applies to every country, nation, family in the world.

If we have no reconciliation of the events/crimes of the past and thus no guidelines for the future, how will we stop ourselves from wandering aimlessly in the present?


~ by Daniel on June 12, 2009.

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